“Chinese Cinderella” Culture and Tradition
“Chinese Cinderella” is an autobiography written by Adeline Yen Mah which tells us about her childhood up to the age of fourteen years. This autobiography tells us what happened and Adeline’s experiences throughout her childhood. By reading this autobiography it has given me an idea about different culture and traditions of China. Whilst reading “Chinese Cinderella” I found that women would have their feet bound because men preferred to marry women who had small feet even if it meant the women had “life-long arthritis”. For women to be considered feminine you would have to carry out this act. “If you had large unbound feet, no man would marry you,” which tells us that the women carried out this action for men to marry them.
The result of foot binding was ‘long-life arthritis’ so that you would be noticed by men. The writer made foot binding in our eyes by writing such words and sentences as ‘swaying as if her toes had been partly cut off. This shows us that Nai Nai could not walk properly and shows us how much pain she had to go through. This book, it expresses to us how horrid and painful foot binding was. By reading “Chinese Cinderella” I got to know how painful this custom was by ‘Nai Nai’ having to come to Adeline walking very slowly and ‘hobbling’ towards her. I China it is also a tradition in some families for arranged marriages to take place and especially at a young age and to someone who the child does not know. When the “Big Sister’s” wedding was taking place, Adeline feared that she might be forced into an arranged marriage.
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‘When I get to be seventeen, I sure don’t want to be taken out of school to marry someone I’ve just met! Especially when he is much older than me!’ This also shows that the groom may be ‘twice her age’ and yet the bride will have to accept the marriage. In China, girls were not thought of much and did not have much say; ‘I’m terrified they’ll force me into having an arranged marriage like Big Sisters. This indicates the horror which Chinese girls think China about arranged marriages. This quote is from Adeline Yen Mah showing her anxiety on this matter and her longing not to be forced to get married to a stranger. The females in China are treated very differently compared to the males in mostly all the activities and challenges such as education because females are thought of being a ‘despised daughters’. In China, females are thought of as having a lower status than males.
In the schools in China, for entertainment, they often play shuttlecock which is also known as badminton and this game is played by many other people in different countries i.e. in England. In China, a game called Majong was popular and was played by Adeline’s aunt, ‘Aunt Baba’. In 1911 there was a revolution and the imperial Manchu court in Beijing was abolished. Sun Yat-Sen became president and proclaimed China a republic. The public of China still remembered him because he was a famous political figure. In schools, the students would often remember and recite Sun Yat-Sen’s last testament. I learnt a bit about the history of China from reading ‘Chinese Cinderella’ that in December 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour the United States of America became involved in the Second World War.
‘Many of the streets around our house were named after dead French heroes or catholic saints’ This shows the power that the French had over the Chinese people that they could change the street names. The French people would ‘bark’ out orders in their language and expect them, the Chinese people, to understand, so at the same time, the schools in China taught the children the alphabet and numbers in French. Many years ago, China lost the opium war which leads to many coastal cities such as Tianjin and shanghai occupied by foreign soldiers. This mixed the Chinese and French culture and many mixed marriages took place such as Niang’s. The Japanese ruled most of China including the city of Tianjin where Adeline grew up. Because the Japanese had a strong power over China, the Chinese people were afraid of the Japanese. If you went past a Japanese soldier without bowing down to them they would tend to ‘punish’ you by beating you.
In August 1945, America dropped a bomb on Japan and this ended the Second World War. America became the new conqueror. This also mixed the Chinese and American culture by, for example, having bacon and eggs for breakfast. In Buddhist families, it is their culture and custom for Buddhist funerals to take place when someone dies. Usually, the Buddhist monks are dressed in ‘long robes’. Occasionally, when someone dies, the monks would pray for that person. ‘All night while listening to the monks praying and watching their shining bald heads in the flickering candlelight’. They also light incense sticks. ‘The smell of incense’ would often permeate the air. The funeral would tend to take place a day after the death. The coffin is usually ‘draped with white sheets and placed on a hearse pulled by four men and the people who attended this event are usually dressed in ‘white robes and white handbags for the boys and white ribbons for the girls’.
It is a Chinese tradition to ‘absorb the traditional hundred-day religious mourning period’ for the deceased. I found out that the Buddhist monks use to have shaved bald heads. I also found out the type of clothes which are worn on certain occasions such as New Years Day. On New Years Day, the common people would tend to wear ‘loose-fitting Chinese long gowns with a traditional mandarin collar and cloth buttons’ and the rich would usually tend to dress in ‘western-style suits’. In ‘Big Sister’s wedding in ‘Chinese Cinderella’, Big Sister wore a ‘Beautiful pink qipao and silver shoes’ which is Chinese style clothing. ‘The room was filled with masses of fresh flowers, and the Chinese character for double happiness was outlined in red blooms against the wall’. This shows that although the people wore western clothes so that they would be considered of a higher class, Chinese characters were still used in gatherings.
The groom wore a tuxedo which was different from “Big Sister’s” Chinese wedding dress. This shows that in Chinese culture and traditions, only upper-class people would wear western-style clothing and the lower-class would wear traditional Chinese clothing. I found out many different types of dishes which are eaten by the Chinese in everyday life. The Chinese culture also involves food such as duck which is eaten a lot by Chinese people. They also eat tea eggs, dragon balls which is a type of fruit, rice, spring rolls, tofu with minced pork and peanuts, stewed duck with leak and on special occasions, such as New Years Day, they would treat themselves in eating salted duck. They also eat dumplings which are stuffed pork, chives and spring onions. For refreshments, they drink cold tea.
When it is the Chinese New Year, in China it was a holiday not only for children but also for adults. When it is the Chinese New Year everybody gets to wear new clothes and eat special dishes such as salted duck. ‘A tailor had come to our house to measure everyone for new outfits’. Whilst reading ‘Chinese Cinderella’ I found that Chinese words are little characters. The Chinese language does not have an alphabet and when they write Chinese, they write with a brush using ink which is generally made out of charcoal. ‘I placed some water in the receptacle of my stone writing table, grinding a stick of charcoal against its moistened flat surface to make fresh ink’. From my reading of ‘Chinese Cinderella’, I got to know that rickshaws are the traditional transport used by the people in China. Rickshaws were used by many people whether rich or poor and still being used at present.
From my reading of ‘Chinese Cinderella’, I found that street life in china is very busy. Motor cars, trams, rickshaws, Pedicabs and bicycles whizzed by’. In China, the roads are so busy and the vehicles are travelling at such a fast speed that the people of China sometimes fear their lives when they cross the street. This shows that there is a large population in China, and these kinds of road rages tend to take place in a country where there is a large population. ‘I kept walking but dared not cross the road’. On the streets of China, there are many stalls and shops which sell different things such as crickets in cages, spring rolls, tea eggs and they also provide services such as ear wax extractor, letter-writing, hair cuts and dental care. The streets of China are not safe and especially not for a little girl such as Adeline. ‘Doesn’t she know it’s dangerous for a little girl your age to be hanging around on the street like this?’.
In China, the rich, wealthy people employed maids, cooks, chauffeurs and rickshaw pullers. This all depends on their social standing. ‘Ye Ye employed seven maids, a cook, a chauffeur and a rickshaw- puller’. Out of respect, the younger brothers or sisters in a family would not call their older brothers or sisters by their first names. They would refer to them and call them names such as ‘Fourth Brother’ or ‘Little Sister’. In the Chinese language, ‘Ye Ye’ is Chinese for grandfather and ‘Nai Nai’ is Chinese for grandmother. ‘Now say goodbye to your Ye Ye’. I found that Adeline’s father wanted to send Adeline to a private school and she did where she learnt English but yet at home they still speak Chinese and kept the Chinese culture although they wore western clothes. From my reading of ‘Chinese Cinderella,’ I read that poor people in China use to be so desperate for money that they used to sell their children for a better future.
‘The child had a large placard hanging around her neck on which was written ‘my name is Feng San-San. I am for sale.”. Adeline was from a rich family and yet she has to dress in clothes that poor people would wear because she was the child of a woman who had died and was now living with her stepmother. Adeline would not receive any new clothes to wear even on special occasions. Her stepmother’s children ‘were already ‘special’ from the moment of their birth’ and they received many new clothes. Paper was invented in China and the Chinese stories were collected and printed into books. The Chinese were inventive and carried out most of their traditions. Conclusion. ‘Chinese Cinderella’ is not only a book about a deprived daughter called Adeline who was neglected by her father but it also gave me a flavour of Chinese life way of life. This book gave me an inside view of Chinese life during the 1940s.